Sometimes rated by surveys as the city with the best quality of life in the world, and the wealthiest city in Europe, Zurich does not rank quite as high as a European tourist destination. Zurich is beautiful and clean, with an impressive number of museums and art galleries, but it lacks the uniqueness of, say, Amsterdam's canal-lined streets and weathered guild houses, or the richness of Vienna's ornate architectural ensembles, or the character of historically decrepit Florence. Zurich is a global city, with modern buildings and a highly refined shopping street, but if you're in Europe to dwell in old-world charm, medieval masonry, or breathtaking Alpine scenery, Zurich is not the place.
On the other hand, if you're a group of suburban teenage girls, most of whom had never been to Europe, stepping out of the bustling Zurich train station after an 11 hour plane flight and your first train ride, this cosmopolitan city makes a grand impression. The gasps were audible. It was dusk on December 26th, the day after we'd left our families on Christmas. Crossing the Limmat River, the reflection of the city lights was enchanting.
We headed with our luggage straight for Niederdorf, a cobblestone pedestrian street in old town with lively shops and restaurants, and also, fortunately, the terrific location of our youth hostel. Decorated with Christmas trees and twinkling lights, the little side alleys, squares, and plazas delighted the girls.
Imagine their excitement when I told them after we unloaded our luggage at the hostel they were free to roam the streets without us three adult chaperones (since I figured we three couldn't manage much more than collapsing on our beds). I think they were shocked at my lenience their very first night in Europe, but I recognized there was absolutely no danger in this part of town and no way they could get lost if they stuck together. Before I knew it I could hear them giggling outside below my hostel window, screeching when they found a patch of snow down by the river, and eagerly shooting pictures up on our building's roof (how they figured out there was roof access, I don't know).
No one seemed too troubled by jetlag that first night. All slept well from sheer exhaustion.